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Adam Driver is incredible and award-worthy in off-the-wall ‘Annette’

Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard in “Annette.”  (Courtesy of Amazon Studios)
Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard in “Annette.” (Courtesy of Amazon Studios)
By Adam Graham Tribune News Service

Adam Driver gives the performance of the year in “Annette,” a positively kooky movie musical that is as visionary as it is bizarre. It’s a story about the impulses that drive one to commit heinous acts of murder, and one major role in the film is filled by a puppet.

It’s a cracked look at celebrity, marriage and parenthood, a sort-of critique on tabloid culture and a glance at the highfalutin world of the fine arts. Audiences will laugh at times, and they’re supposed to laugh.

Other times, they won’t know what to do, and that’s part of the inscrutable experience that is “Annette.” Driver plays Henry McHenry, a bad boy standup comedian with a provocative live act.

He hits the stage in a green bathrobe and performs off-the-cuff bits where his audiences aren’t sure where the bit ends and his confessionals begin. Driver is nothing less than transfixing in these scenes, attacking them with a livewire ferocity; in the credits, he thanks Bill Burr and Chris Rock, who must have served as his comic inspiration.

At home, Henry is married to Ann Defrasnoux (Marion Cotillard), a famous opera singer, and they love each other so much that they express it in song, singing back and forth, “We love each other so much.”

Ah yes, the story and songs here are written by Sparks, the wonderfully quirky American duo of Ron and Russell Mael (themselves having a moment, with this summer’s “The Sparks Brothers” documentary winning new converts), whose straightforward approach to songwriting yields sublime moments such as opener “It’s Time to Start.”

The brothers appear as themselves in the film, setting a tone of surrealism that extends throughout. Henry and Ann have a baby, and baby Annette appears on screen as a puppet, a metaphorical expression of how Henry looks at his child.

When he later kills Ann, confessing to the crime onstage before he does it, Henry coaxes Annette to perform, and she becomes a worldwide singing phenomenon even though she can barely walk.

“Annette” isn’t for everybody; if you want ordinary, go see “Jungle Cruise.” This is a challenging, satirical, farcical piece of esoterica, and Driver is electrifying in an award-worthy performance.

Director Leos Carax blurs the lines between reality and fiction to the point where it’s unclear what is honest and what is make-believe. But just try taking your eyes off it.

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